When The Bold and The Beautiful returns to production this week in Los Angeles, the first American soap opera to resume shooting after the pandemic-induced shutdown will be forced to contend with an awkwardly chaste obstacle — social distancing. That’s a tough ask for a show dependent upon romantic story lines served up in steamy close-ups. The writers tried to mute intimate encounters, but that was a recipe for failure. 

“We were cutting all of the kisses, and the shows weren’t the same,” says Bradley Bell, executive producer and head writer of the Emmy Award-winning CBS show that draws a global audience of some 35 million viewers. Daytime programming is a profitable part of the network’s business. The Bold and the Beautiful brought in $8 million in ad revenue in the first quarter, and $36 million in 2019, according to Kantar Media.

Like any couple in a long-term relationship, The Bold and The Beautiful’s creative team had to figure out how to keep the romance alive — while keeping the actors eight feet apart. 

Preserving those passionate on-screen kisses will involve a bit of creative camera work, and the magic of editing. Each actor will go through the motions separately, performing inches away from the camera.

“They’ll look like they’re nose to nose, in the throes of passion,” Bell says. “But they’ll be shooting scenes all by themselves.”

Simulated sex scenes, though, will require more than clever camera work and creative lighting. Bell says he plans to use a combination of stand-ins and blow-up dolls. Actors’ spouses, who test negative for the novel coronavirus, will join their partners for love scenes that involve touching.  Life-like dummies will fill in for more intimate on-camera work.

“We have some life-like blow up dolls that have been sitting around here for the past 15 years, that we’ve used for various other stories — (like) when people were presumed dead,” says Bell. “We’re dusting off the dolls and putting new wigs and make-up on them and they’ll be featured in love scenes.”

The romantic workarounds are among a series of modifications necessary to safely restart production, which halted March 13. Bell says the show quickly burned through the episodes that were in post-production when California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued stay-at-home orders on March 19, and, for the first time in the show’s 33-year history, resorted to airing reruns within a month.

As with other productions resuming Los Angeles, cast and crew will undergo testing for Covid-19 before returning to set. A coordinator will oversee all safety precautions, which include limiting the number of people on stage at any one time and designating areas for hair, makeup and props to allow for safe distancing. Other physical changes, such as installing Plexiglas in the production booth, will separate the director and the assistant director, while lighting has been moved to a separate area.

“I’m in the parking lot now, reviewing protocols,” said Bell from the network’s Television City production facility in Los Angeles. “We plan to get our first shots tomorrow, and Thursday and Friday we’ll roll into full production. Of course, if there are any red flags or concerns, we’ll stop. Because safety is first.”

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